Alexander Okhonko: VRT500 Offers Wider Capabilities than U.S.-made Robinson

Russia is expected to bring its brand new multi-functional rotorcraft known as VRT500 to the international market of helicopters with the maximum takeoff weight of less than 2 tonnes within the next 2 or 3 years. This segment is currently dominated by US, Canadian, and European companies. This is an ambitious challenge, however, the leadership of VR-Technologies, who is developing this rotorcraft, sees it as a realistic objective and is targeting to attract customers due to the unique functionality and performance of the Russian-made vehicle. Alexander Okhonko, the General Manager at VR-Technologies, has spoken about the advantages of the new Russian rotorcraft, its price, unique performances, and potential customers in his interview to the RIA Novosti observer Alexey Panshin at Dubai Airshow 2019.

How are the VRT500 tests going? What stage are they at now? Are you on schedule to meet deadlines?

The programme is currently on schedule. First stage of Strength and Wind tunnel tests have been successfully completed. The next stage will focus on the testing and certification of individual components and systems. The first flight prototype will be conducted in mid-2020.

In May 2019, the company announced an application for certification from European Aviation Safety Agency EASA? Has the application been submitted?

We are negotiating with potential clients from different countries all over the world and we want to provide them with our products as quickly as possible. We have signed contracts with EU member states for the sale of the VRT500, so obtaining EASA is a priority for us. Given the huge interest worldwide in our products, it is important for us to take into account the requirements of aviation authorities in different markets. The advantage of the European certificate lies not only in obtaining permission to operate the VRT500 in the EU, but also in the simplified procedure for further certification in most regions of the world, thanks to the existence of agreements with EASA. Our goal is to apply for initial certification before the end of this year. It has taken a lot of time to analyze and build processes in accordance with the requirements of European flight regulators.

What about certification for use on the Russian market?

We will apply for both certificates simultaneously. We are working with the Federal Air Transport Agency to obtain permission to operate a helicopter in Russia.

How do you assess the potential of your helicopter in comparison with competitors?

The VRT500 technical concept has several advantages over its competitors. Firstly, this is a helicopter with coaxial rotors (the only model in the light, single engine class), which means exceptional safety. Secondly, it also means improved flight control, take-off and landing in urban settings and limited sites. Another benefit of the coaxial design is that we now have additional cabin space and the biggest cabin in its class. This helicopter offers exceptional operational flexibility, with no less than 8 configurations - baseline, air taxi, passenger, business and corporate, training, public safety, cargo, HEMS are all covered by one helicopter. Being the only helicopter in its category with a rear cargo flap, this provides additional benefits in several configurations.

As the VRT500 is a global product, we have combined Russian know-how and the world's best manufacturers of systems and assemblies. Using industry-leading technology such as Pratt and Whitney engines and an State-of-the-art avionics, the VRT500’s quality speaks for itself, providing the very best in safety in any environment, not only urban territories but also mountainous and marine areas.

In terms of price, the VRT500 will be very competitive in comparison with rival products, but at the same time, it offers wider functionality and exceptional technical solutions and components.

Does the UAE have any interest in purchasing the VRT500?

Global interest and feedback have been positive. We already have clients from many other countries, but the UAE is one of the key markets for several reasons. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are modern metropolitan areas with large ground traffic and a well-developed air infrastructure. A great number of skyscrapers with helipads (the first site was certified in 2012), and high living standards in the UAE are clear indicators of both market potential and a readiness to use our product and services.

Our presence at DAS is due to our interest in mutually beneficial cooperation with local partners, that is why we decided to launch the VRT500 here.

What are the main advantages of VRT 500 in comparison with other established brands? And who do you consider the main competitor?

We talked about the main advantages earlier, but here I want to stress that the VRT500 occupies an intermediate position, being a light helicopter, it is able to perform tasks typical of a "long cabin" machines, and in some areas even the functions of light twin-engine copters.

Earlier it was reported that in the Russian market, the VRT500 could replace Robinson. Is that the plan? What are the benefits of VRT500?

You can’t really compare these 2 helicopters, because Robinson belongs to the lighter class and they are incomparable in terms of weight, volume, number of passengers maneuverability, or versatility. The VRT500 has much wider operational flexibility for both private, utility and commercial use, whereas the Robinson is limited to mostly private use.

Earlier it was reported that the first serial VRT500 helicopter will be released in 2021 at the Ulan-Ude aircraft factory. Will the production be carried out at this site?

Simultaneous preparations for serial production and certification will begin in 2021, with the launch of production in 2023. It is very important to note that, due to the fact that the helicopter will be certified by EASA, the first prototypes within the framework of the project will be produced at a European location.

We can organize assembly and production anywhere in the world. The producers of the parts that we use have a global supply chain, meaning we can assemble our helicopters quickly without comprising on quality and the helicopter’s airworthiness.

Are you planning to exhibit only once in UAE?

At the International Aerospace Exhibition Dubai Airshow this year, Russian Helicopters is planning the premiere of a light multi-purpose helicopter VRT500, which will be presented directly outside the chalet.

What is the reason for this decision?

Today, we can say that there is interest in cooperation on both sides. VR-technologies are of interest to partners not only as a developer and manufacturer of unique equipment, but also as an integrator of solutions and technologies for urban air transport, one of the most promising areas for the development of the helicopter industry. We have a shared vision with our partners in terms of safety, mobility and comfort are priorities.

Are you planning to present anything other than the VRT500?

We will also introduce the VRT300 unmanned helicopter model. At this stage, the aircraft has successfully passed a series of flight tests, which are due for completion in 2020. The VRT300 has two configurations: cargo - for commercial operations within the framework of automated logistics systems and a version with an increased flight range for monitoring underlying surfaces and remote-sensing. Work is also underway to equip the VRT300 with precision automatic boarding systems for use on ships.

Are any signings planned at the exhibition?

Of course, we are planning a series of signatures, which you will find out about during the exhibition. We will complete negotiations on the selection of suppliers of major systems on the VRT500 helicopter and sign new contracts for the supply to our clients. We are actively seeking new partners interested in the joint development of urban air transport.